Friday, October 26, 2012

The Beauty of Freedom- Part 2

Recently I was giving a tour to a family who was in DC visiting. What was really interesting about this family was that the father was from Germany and he moved to the US in the 80's for school and has been here ever since and is about to take his citizenship test which I think is really awesome.

Towards the end of the tour we got to a part that I was a little unsure if I should include or not. Personally it is one of my favorite parts of the tour so I went for it and showed them and man am I glad I did.

You are probably wondering what this could possibly be. Well I will show you.

Ronald Reagan's statue in the Capitol Rotunda 
This is Ronald Reagan's statue in the Capitol Rotunda. It was one of the newest statues in the State Statuary Collection. After Reagan's death, California withdrew one of their other statues and replaced it with Reagan.

I know what you are thinking, "Ok, that's great but what is so great about that? And what does that have to do with a man from Germany?" Great questions! If you take a closer look at the statue, like the one below, you can see a strip of stone is different from the rest. See the picture below.

Ronald Reagan Statue base
(side note: I added these arrows using Skitch on my iPhone)
This isn't an error or an artist trying to throw in some texture. It is something way more awesome... It's a piece of the Berlin Wall! Literally a slice from the Berlin Wall! 

I explained this to the family on my tour and stood back and watched the German man's face. I watched as this tall, strong man fought tears and for the ability to speak. He told me I had no idea what the significance of that was, how great a day it was when that wall came down. 

He was moved, I was moved because he was moved, it was a beautiful tour. Beautiful... like freedom.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Amazing Year- January

For those of you who do not know, this has been a pretty amazing year. Each month I have had at least one AMAZING and incredible experience. I didn't really plan it. Most of them were last minute things that just happened to work out but then after several months I felt like I had to continue through the rest of the year. However, I'm starting to run out of extremely awesome things I can do that are 1- affordable and 2- logistically possible (i.e. I cannot go on a spontaneous trip around the world in a sailboat today because I have to give tours this week at the Capitol). So I thought I would go ahead and post what I have. Post any suggestions if you have any.

January- SCUBA DIVING/Bonaire 
scuba diving
I'm OK!
SCUBA Diving 
So not only did I get my SCUBA certification, get college credit for getting my SCUBA certification but I got to do it in Bonaire, a small island off the northern coast of South America, about 100 miles from Venezuela.

Wofford has a really awesome program called January Interim. For the month of January, students take one class that is typically a little (or a lot) more fun than your typical college class. Wofford offers a wide variety of classes both on campus and off. It is practically impossible to not find something that interests you. In my four years we had everything from knitting and sewing to dancing to trips to Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. There are trips that are gone for most of the month, some that stay on campus for the entire month, and some that are there some and gone some. Ok this is starting to sound a little like a Dr. Seuss book so I'll move on.

Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire 
So for my senior year I got to do an interim that I had been wanting to do since I was a freshman, SCUBA diving. I had been SCUBA diving once in the Bahamas the summer before my senior year of high school, and I loved it! Unfortunately, my brother liked it but wasn't crazy about it and neither of my parents are big fans of being underwater for quite so long and did not want me to get certified by myself. Needless to say, this had been something I had been looking forward to for quite some time and it was well worth the wait. Just so you don't think that we got off completely easy, I will add that we had to do a lot of work in our class at Wofford before we headed off to the coast of South America. We had class in the morning at 9 learning about the different types of fish we would see, the ocean and ecosystem, and stuff like that. After lunch we had time to read and study scuba diving textbook. Then in the late afternoon we had our SCUBA diving certification class for the written work where we watched videos, took tests, and discussed what we had learned. Once class was dismissed we had about an hour to eat dinner, grab our swimsuits and gear and head to the YMCA for the pool part of the scuba diving class which would usually last until about 11 pm or so. All in all it made for some very long days leading up to our trip but it was well worth it once we got to Bonaire.  

Just in case you forgot what it looked like. Can't believe we got credit for this!
Oh and did I mention it's January?

Once in Bonaire, life was a little more relaxing. We were there for a week. One beautiful, glorious week. We were "required" to go on at least one dive a day but no one really had a problem meeting that requirement. Every morning we would eat breakfast, load the trucks or boat with our tanks and other gear, and go dive. 

Dirt Roads in Bonaire
Riding in the back of the truck on the dirt roads of Bonaire

Normally I'm a boat person. I love boats! But here in Bonaire one of my favorite things (as well as most other people's too) was riding from dive to dive on top of the tanks in the back of the pickup trucks. It is the best way to take in the beautiful scenery and the cool island breeze.

I think I went on all but 2 of our dives and logged more than 15 dives that week including a night dive, a deep water dive (100+ feet), and a wreck dive. We dove both from boats and shore dives and saw so many amazing and incredible things. The colors of the reef are so unimaginably beautiful, no picture can ever do them justice. It blows my mind just thinking about it.

After an amazing trip like this, I really didn't think any thing else would even come close to being as awesome. I was wrong.

Friday, October 19, 2012

United States Botanic Garden

Every weekend as I'm riding my bike around DC, I pass the United States Botanic Garden and this Saturday was so beautiful it was just begging for people to come visit. The Botanic Garden sits at the foot of the Capitol Building right next the traffic circle around President Garfield.

I think it is so awesome/hilarious that in DC they put their traffic circles around statues of presidents. 
Confession: I didn't take this picture. It's from Wikipedia.
So on a beautiful Saturday afternoon what is better than checking out your nation's greenhouse? Now I'm not really a "Hey I think I'll go spend the afternoon looking at flowers and other plants" kind of person but on this day it was beckoning. I have to admit it was pretty cool... otherwise I probably wouldn't be writing a blog about it. It is split up into different sections. The main ones are the Jungle (the large, multi-story greenhouse section in the picture above), Hawaii, Orchids, Dessert plants, medicinal plants, a kid's section, and Bartholdi Park across the street. There are a few more sections but I don't remember them/didn't take pictures in them.  My favorite parts were the Jungle, the kids section, the orchids, and Bartholdi park. 

US Botanic Garden

The jungle is pretty self explanatory. It is a large, 3(ish) story greenhouse with all types of trees, ferns, vines, and other plants. You really expect to see a monkey jump out at you at any second but, alas, they have no monkeys. It reminded me a lot of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, just without the hotel. What is really cool about the jungle is that there are stairs that lead up to a catwalk through the trees. 

US Botanic GardenBotanic GardenUS Botanic Garden

The kids section was pretty neat. If you know me, I'm all about the kids section at places. I love hands on exhibits, coloring, interactive displays, anything with buttons to push, levers to pull, or flashing lights, slides, ball pits, and pretty much anything else you can find at a kids museum or a McDonalds play place. One really cool thing about the Botanic Garden is that not only does it have a kids section but it makes the rest of the garden fun for kids with the family guide for kids. It's free, you just pick it up at the entrance when you get a map and other information. The family guide has cool facts, a scavenger hunt type page, games, and questions. Not all of the museums have this so I thought it was pretty cool especially for a place that is typically geared towards an older audience. But back to the kids section. It is a really neat area that has a little play house, fountains, watering cans, and kid sized tools with little flowers they can plant. The down side is that, although it is in the Botanic Gardens, it is in a courtyard area that is outside. This is not a problem if it is a nice day like the day I went, but as we move towards winter it will be colder and less pleasant out there. 

Notice the watering cans and plants on the left waiting to be planted. 

I like the roof. 
All kids like a tunnel, especially one that isn't in the dark!

Of the flowers and stuff, the orchids were my favorite. They had lots of different varieties and colors. If you only have 15 or so minutes just go to the orchids, they are totally worth it. My mom has grown orchids since I was little so I can't wait to take her back just to see this section if nothing else.  

US Botanic Garden

US Botanic Garden

US Botanic Garden

US Botanic Garden

And finally, Bartholdi park. This small park is on opposite side of the Botanic Garden from the capitol. It features a beautiful fountain in the center surrounded by flowers, plants, shaded tables and chairs. The fountain was sculpted by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the same man who sculpted the Statue of Liberty.

This is another one of those things that I had passed several times before stopping to visit for a little bit. My stopping actually wasn't planned at all. The park sits at the bottom of the hill on Independence Avenue just below the house office buildings. One day while riding my bike down Independence my friend Nikki called and I thought it looked like a nice place to stop and talk on the phone and just sit for a while... I was right. 

US Botanic Garden

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Beauty of Freedom

A few weeks ago my parents and I watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington starring James Stewart. If you haven't seen it, you need to. Unfortunately, it isn't on Netflix but you can get it on Amazon for less than $10. It is a great old movie about a young, optimistic, and naive senator, Jefferson Smith, who is appointed to his seat by a corrupt governor who believes that Smith will do as he is told and, more importantly, vote the way he is told. However Smith eventually figures out what is going on and refuses to be bullied into submission. It is a pretty predictable storyline but what I love about this film is the way Mr. Smith sees Washington. He looks beyond the corrupt politicians and shady business and sees our great nation's capitol as what it truly is, the home and foundation of liberty and democracy. He sees the monuments and statues not just stone or marble but as testaments to the great men who founded our country. He considers it an honor to serve his country, not just his job. 

In the few weeks I've been here I've felt a little like Mr. Smith. Not because I work with corrupt people, I don't, but because I see and interact everyday with people who no longer look at the Capitol with the awe factor it deserves. Most people seem to just be doing their job, trying to move up the ladder, and be successful in a profession that seems to be more and more about power and less and less about public service. They don't walk around amazed at that everyday they get to work in the United States Capitol. They get to walk some of the same halls as men such as Chief Justice John Marshall and President Abraham Lincoln. 

One of my favorite parts of my job is giving tours of the Capitol building to constituents who come to visit DC, most of whom have not lost the "Awe-factor yet." On the tour they see lots of interesting things and I try my best to relay the historical significance of everything. But the absolute best part is walking into the rotunda. They may have seen pictures or seen it in the past, but nothing is like walking into the rotunda, craning your neck back as far as it will go and studying the beautiful masterpiece on the ceiling. It is breath taking and it never gets old. 

I love just taking in the Capitol Building and the view across the mall to Washington Monument. It recently hit me why I love it so much, it's because this is what freedom looks like. This is what liberty looks like. And it's beautiful!

An example to illustrate. This past summer my family and I were in Beijing. This was my fourth trip to Beijing and my parent's third.  A family friend with us who was visiting for the first time asked which buildings were their government buildings. I half jokingly replied, "The ones that look like if you go in, you'll never come back out." She immediately understood. Their government buildings are strictly in the communist style--grey, plain stone and concrete, with only one visible door and few, if any, windows and they seriously look like if you go in, you won't come out... alive at least. A cry from our beautiful buildings framed by gorgeous grounds with green grass and trees. Pictures don't do it justice. 

All this is to say, I hope I never get tired of looking at it, of taking it all in and appreciating the beauty and freedom which it represents. I think Mr. Smith sums it up pretty well. 

You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that. 

First Blog Post!

After graduating from Wofford College in May of this year (2012), I ventured into the real world. My first adventure.... interning for a congressman in Washington, DC. After finishing my first month I decided to start a blog to document my adventures, what I like, what I don't like, interesting discoveries, etc for myself, family and friends back home, and all who stumble across my blog.

All of that said, I am still learning how to blog and make things look nice and everything so bear with me! 

Thanks for reading!